NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK – RAIN CANNOT DAMPEN STORYLINES, MEL SCORES HUGE VICTORY AND PEGGY COMING BACK?
LESSONS NOT FORGOTTEN - Some lessons are not easily forgotten. You can ask Melanie Troxel and she’ll confirm.
The day before the Thunder Valley Nationals, Troxel attended a gala dinner honoring those who have earned the highest award of valor the United States rewards their military personnel. The four-time Top Fuel national event winner heard story upon story of brave individuals facing various challenges and exhibiting valor on the battlefield.
Troxel will never compare winning a drag race with the incredible acts of heroism exhibited by those who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, but simply put, one cannot help but learn the importance of challenging adversity when they’ve heard those true stories.
When faced with the challenges of broken concentration, uncooperative weather and the reality she was totally winless in the first seven national events, Troxel borrow a page from the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients.
In other words, she didn’t hesitate – she just did what she had to without thinking. Not only did she win her first round, but also added three more en route to becoming the first female drag racer to win NHRA national events in both nitro categories.
“We came into this event knowing we couldn’t afford to fall any further back, and the fortunate thing for us is there are really not a lot of dominant people out there right now,” Troxel said. “The top 10 is not pulling away from everybody. I mean every race is a different person that doesn't qualify or that goes out early so we've kind of been falling behind, but not so far behind that we couldn't make it up.
“There was a feeling like this the time we had to do it, win, not only to get caught up in the points but just as a team we needed that confidence builder that yes we can make the top 10, we can get it done.”
Troxel wanted to win. She needed to win. Faced with the prospect the final round could have been a solo was something which was not to her liking.
The Force operation had problems raising the body on Neff's ride so that they could charge the timing mechanism. Troxel didn't know the reason for the deal and admitted she didn't want to know.
“You just try to sit there and keep your calm and I knew we had plenty of fuel in the cat,” Troxel admitted. “The only thing that came to mind was that I didn’t want to win this way.”
By the time Troxel reached the final round, she could handle any situation. Her first round run showed the strength of her team and the determination of the driver.
Troxel and opponent Tony Pedregon were shut-off three times due to rain and twice forced to return to the pits for refueling and clutch adjustments.
“Anytime you have to get in and out of the car like that, it can mess with your head,” Troxel said. “I tried to remain positive with the whole situation. After going through all of that, I was already rid of my first round jitters by the time we did get to run. You’re always a little tense in the first round and I just chose to laugh off the experience.”
JUST CALL HER QUEEN -
ONLY ONE OF FOURTEEN – With her win at Bristol, Melanie Troxel
became the 14th driver to have won in both a Top Fuel and Funny Car.
She also is the only woman in the group. Her gender aside, Troxel
prefers to be one of a select few than in a list all by herself.
“For me its more important to be one of 14. I have never liked to judge myself against only the females out there. Hey, we are out here competing against all these guys. How about, are we better than all these guys? I like to set my bar comparing myself against everyone.”
I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR – If Melanie Troxel was looking for a way to trump Ashley Force’s monumental victory in
Troxel defeated Force, 4.820 to 4.863, in a race in which she clearly had to manhandle her ProCare RX Dodge Charger in the second-half of the run.
Troxel downplayed the gender hype in their match.
“It's funny that everyone wants to make a big story about Ashley and I running against each other,” Troxel said. “And, for me it’s not about the other female out here. I think that's pretty sad if we have to just compare ourselves against each other. I'm happy to get a round win against them because they are a tough team and tough competitors and anytime you can get a round win that's a good day.”
Force echoed Troxel's remarks.
“I’m just relieved to get that done with,” Force added. “We really just want to win our rounds regardless of who is in the other lane. Regardless if it is my father, a female or a male and I know she feels the same way. We come out here to win. We didn’t come here to just beat girls or we are in the wrong sport. We came here to beat whoever is in the lane next to us. That is our goal and that is my team’s goal. It is a girl in the seat but it is a team of guys I am racing against and it is the same with her. It is two females in the seats and it is exciting for the fans but I am sure there will be plenty of more times we’ll race each other this season, I hope. It wasn’t our time this time and hopefully it will be next time.”
TRAIN'S-A-COMIN' - Look out NHRA Pro Stock top 10 hopefuls, Dave Connolly is closing in.
He began chasing POWERade Series points five races after his challengers, making his 2008 debut three races ago. But he and the Cagnazzi Racing Charter Communications Chevy Cobalt team
showed little rust. Connolly was runner-up two weeks ago at St. Louis and then he drove into the Thunder Valley Nationals winner’s circle Sunday at Bristol Dragway following a long day of waiting out rain delays.
The victory, the 18 of his career in 31 final rounds, boosted him into 14th place with 244 points and he is just 83 out of 10th – the final position in the six-race Countdown to the Championship that doesn’t begin until September.
“We were hungry,” Connolly said. “We definitely wanted to get our first 2008 race win and I’m glad we were able to get it at Bristol. It’s kind of a home race for us and we won it in front of a lot of friends.
“We were able to get some better luck at Bristol today. We’ve lost the tight ones, blown up motors and took out (timing) cones before, but this time we picked up the trophy.”
Ray Connolly, Dave’s dad, made it two family wins in one day again when he won in Super Gas. It was the third time they’ve accomplished the feat since Dave’s Pro Stock debut in 2003.
Dave Connolly began the day from the No. 6 starting slot and eliminated Tom Hammonds (6.776 seconds to 6.795), Greg Anderson (6.769 to foul), Ron Krisher on a hole shot (6.769 to 6.760) and Greg Stanfield in the finals on another hole shot (6.731 at 204.70 mph to 6.717 at 204.42).
Connolly said he played a starting-line game with Stanfield and took advantage of it. Connolly’s .014-second reaction time bolted him into a lead he never relinquished. Stanfield had .101 reaction time.
“That’s what you have to do when you feel like you’re the underdog,” said Connolly. “That’s just how it worked out. I knew we had the car to win the race and it took the driver to let go of the clutch pedal on time in the last couple of rounds to get hole-shot wins. It shook a little on the last run but it was still good enough to get that win light, and that’s all that counts.”
Intermittent rain showers and a strong storm later in the day prolonged the final rounds until after 10 p.m., but Connolly and the Mooresville, N.C.-based team didn’t mind.
“Thanks to Charter Communications and LifeLock for helping us get back to the track,” said Connolly. “I was ready to go racing again.”
And get back to the winner’s circle.
SARGE GETS 400 - U.S. Army Top Fuel driver, Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, banked his third victory of the season here
Schumacher, who came into round eight of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series holding the Top Fuel point lead, leveled Larry Dixon in the finals with a 4.555-second pass at 306.81 mph.
“With all of the rain delays that we had, it felt great to end a very long day with a win,” said the Chicago-area resident. “You have to give all the credit in the world to my U.S. Army team. They were in championship form yet again.”
After qualifying number one for the second time this season, Schumacher wiped out Alan Bradshaw, J.R. Todd and Hillary Will before his meeting with Dixon. In getting past Will, Schumacher notched his 400th career round victory.
“Of course, my focus after beating Hillary was immediately on the match up with Dixon, but it did cross my mind that I got to 400,” he said. “That’s really pretty neat. Like I said earlier this weekend, it’s not like John Force getting 1,000 round wins, but it’s a milestone just the same. I certainly couldn’t have gotten to this point without my great U.S. Army team.”
Schumacher’s desire to nail his 44th career national event victory was especially intense in Bristol since his dragster carried a special Salute the Troops paint scheme in advance of Memorial Day.
“We always want to win so badly for our Soldiers, but this weekend meant that much more with the paint scheme that we were running,” he offered. “Given the sacrifices that our Soldiers make for us every day, they deserve every bit of attention that we can give them.”
Schumacher and his U.S. Army team will now take a weekend off before traveling to Heartland Park in Topeka, Kan., May 30-June 1, for the O’Reilly Summer Nationals.
“Hey, we’re still on top of the points, so we’ll go out to Topeka looking to strengthen our position,” he said. “We’re performing real well right now, but there’s always room for improvement. You have to continually be striving for more and more in this sport.”
Schumacher now has a 131-point advantage over second-place Antron Brown in the Top Fuel standings.
STRIKING RESEMBLANCE – With a strong thunderstorm rolling over the mountains surrounding Bristol Dragway, Tony Schumacher and Hillary Will staged as raindrops started to fall following their semi-final match. Both cars, as well the top-end cameras, were spotted with rain as they finished their runs.
The incident bore a striking resemblance to the 1981 Summernationals as Raymond Beadle defeated Kenny Bernstein to win the Funny Car crown. As they reached the shutdown area, they were met by rain which began to fall just milliseconds after the cars launched.
ALL HANDS ON DECK -
TOUGH BREAK FOR NEFF - Mike Neff and his Old Spice Ford Mustang had to battle one of the toughest Funny Car fields,
As the Old Spice Ford Mustang pulled up to stage Neff’s team was unable to lift his Mustang body. As a result crew chief John Medlen was unable to make critical engine adjustments to his BOSS 500 Ford motor. At the top end Neff’s Mustang erupted in flames as Troxel pedaled and drove past him.
“I’m saying let’s go! Let’s go! Rick Stewart is in front of us motioning to go but when we couldn’t get the body up (crew chief John) Medlen couldn’t get in there and arm all the switches which I didn’t know he armed those things. I’m just saying go let’s go. So naturally none of the system worked and that is why it backfired,” said an exasperated Neff.
“I am happy for Melanie but for something like that to keep us from having a good drag race is too bad. Congratulations to Melanie and for Old Spice and Ford that is what makes it so frustrating. We have been running so good we should have been able to make a good run right there. It just didn’t go that way. We’ll get them next time.”
No. 1 qualifier and Rookie of the Year front-runner Mike Neff made a strong run at 4.877 seconds in the opening session to dispatch Tony Bartone. The win was crew chief John Medlen’s 500th career round win.
PEGGY COMING BACK? – Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Peggy Llewellyn confirmed she will return to the tour in 2008 and for her,
“I'm doing some networking,” Llewellyn said. “I am borrowing a bike from Matt Guidera and we're trying to put something together. I figure, if I get out here and show my face people will know I want to race.”
Llewellyn has one national event to her credit with a triumph at last season’s NHRA Fallnationals in Dallas, Texas aboard Karl Klement’s Buell. The team owner elected not to renew her contract for 2008 and instead signed Angelle Sampey.
She’s unsure of the number of races on her schedule but unless something changes for the better, she’ll race unsponsored.
“That's kind of our plan, so we're trying to find the funding for that, but I'm looking not for just a couple races but for the rest of the
season; whatever we can salvage,” Llewellyn admitted.
Llewellyn confirmed she’s pulling out all the stops marketing herself. She even jokes she’s so aggressive she’s knocking people down.
After watching the success enjoyed by former Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Antron Brown, now a Top Fuel driver, could she entertain traveling the same path?
“Maybe not fuel cars but Pro Stock is a possibility,” Llewellyn said. “I love motorcycles and I really haven't finished up what I wanted to do there. But, you never know, I am not closing the door on any opportunity.”
LIKE A BROKEN RECORD -
CLYDE WEST UPDATE – Clyde West, longtime crew chief for V. Gaines, continues his recovery from a ruptured colon. According to Gaines, he’s getting better every day and in the past few days, he’s been able to eat again.
“That’s a big step,” Gaines said. “Hopefully next Wednesday he's going to be out and I'm sure he'll be at the race shop on Thursday.”
Gaines has employed West as his crew chief for as long as he’s drag raced. Past Pro Stock driver Tom Martino has filled the vacancy admirably on a team that has worked in unison for many seasons.
“There's very little conversation goes on in our pit,” Gaines said. “Everybody knows what their doing and everybody can jump from one job to another. The legacy here is we're running Clyde's car here and we're just trying not to mess it up.”
BEATING THEM LIKE A DRUM - Former USAC champion Doug Kalitta taught his drag racing comrades a lesson in why they should stick to the straight-line. He won Saturday’s 12-lap NHRA Circle Track Challenge at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kalitta, who started ninth in the 15-car field of NHRA all-stars, took the lead from Greeneville's Allen Johnson on lap 10 after stalking him for several laps around the .533-mile oval.
“I tell you, it was tough out there,” he said. “I had to work hard out there but I had a lot of fun. I really appreciate the fact that I had the opportunity to do this.
“I had to get up in the wall a little to get past Allen and I tell you, it was so much fun. I was just glad to be able to get around these guys at the end.”
Ron Capps finished second in the NHRA portion of the race, followed by Antron Brown and Greg Anderson. Both Capps and Brown had round track experience. Last night's race was Anderson's first on an oval.
Anderson started 12th and patiently made his way to the front after Justin Humphreys and Gary Scelzi found trouble in the early laps. For the Pro Stock legend, driving on a circle track proved to be a lot of fun.
Other NHRA stars taking part in the Circle Track Challenge were Beckman, Johnson, Justin Humphreys, Jeg Coughlin, Gary Scelzi, Jason Line, Cory McClenathan, J.R. Todd, Kurt Johnson and Tony Schumacher.
ROCKET SCIENCE – Funny Car drivers can sometimes be technology challenged. Bob Tasca III finds parallels between his new iPhone and driving the Motorcraft Ford.
“It’s according to the day,” said Tasca when asked which was more complicated to operate. “and if the iPhone wants to be finicky or not.”
NOT HIS DAY ON THE OVAL – Gary Scelzi won the oval track event prior to the NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis, Mo., and
He didn’t win the Bristol Motor Speedway event and not because he was unable to generate carnage.
“I didn't crash anybody, but two things happened,” Scelzi admitted. “I ran out of brakes and I ran out of talent all at the same time. And, those soft walls, regardless of what anyone says, are not soft. It hit a ton. I tried to stop the thing, obviously I had no brakes, so I just said I would shut the motor off and let it die on compression which it may have done it if had a drive line in it. So I just kinda looped and loffed and flipped and flooped her all the way around to the front straightaway.”
Regardless of the end result, Scelzi enjoyed the moment.
“We had a good time,” Scelzi said. “I think I had something for them. This thing really had some motor I just wished it had some brakes.”
NOT HIS DAY ON THE STRAIGHT-LINE, EITHER - Scelzi fouled out in the first round of eliminations opposite of Ashley Force.
"You just go up there, you've been behind, you want to be on time, you want to make things happen," said the four-time NHRA champion. "I had a great light two weeks ago and (opponent) Cruz Pedregon had a better light. That's not really the issue. The thing is I went up there trying hard and lost concentration and blew it.
"They ran an incredible number. She had a great light, (.079 - .000 is perfect), her car hauled ass. It would have been a hard deal to beat.
"We're close, we just need to qualify better," added Scelzi, who qualified 14th to Ashley's third. "I need to get my head out of my ass and we need to go win some rounds. That's about all I can say.
"It's my third red light in 11 years, so it's not like I make a habit of it, but it's definitely something that you don't want to have in your file.
"The car ran good. It's showing signs of just being awesome. We just can't get that night run. What we know it will do we can't get it to do, for whatever reason, and we end up qualifying on the back half of the ladder and it's unfortunate. But we will get it, I promise you that."
A BIG DAY AT THE RACES -
HONORING THE LEGENDS – The duo of Ronnie Sox and Buddy Martin were inducted into Bristol Dragway’s Legends of
Sox & Martin served as the only inductees for the Class of 2008. Last year, Wally Parks, Larry Carrier, Bruton Smith, Rickie Smith and Don Garlits led the inaugural class.
Present to accept the honor were Buddy Martin and Diane Sox, the widow of Ronnie Sox.
OUCH, THAT HURTS – The honors keep rolling in for Mike Edwards. The recent NHRA Southern Nationals champion recorded his third consecutive .000 reaction time of 2008, only this time the perfect hole shot failed to produce a win.
Edwards left on Greg Stanfield by .028, but the advantage quickly evaporated as he drifted out of the groove, falling off his torrid pace. One round earlier he used a .008 reaction to eliminate No. 1 qualifier Warren Johnson.
THE UNLUCKY TRIFECTA – The first round of Pro Stock wasn’t kind to the last name Johnson.
Following Edwards defeat of Warren, Johnny Gray eliminated Kurt and Allen Johnson lost to John Nobile.
NOT HIS DAY – Sometimes you’re the dog and others you’re the fire hydrant. Hearing Del Worsham’s race day story in Bristol shouldn’t leave much doubt about his role on Sunday.
"You don't have to like it, but you can hardly be mad about it," Worsham said. "We've had a few little issues in various spots on the track all weekend, and we approached each one of those problem areas with a really good plan. It's not often, with these Funny Cars, when you can look at the data after the run and say it actually did everything it was supposed to do. When you qualify with a 4.84, and you know you have to step up a bit to win the first round, biting off any more than what we did would've been too much. We aimed to run a 4.79, and when we watched the first four pairs run anywhere from 4.79 on up to 4.87 I thought we had a legitimate chance if the car would just do what we wanted it to do.
“It did, but the guy in the other lane didn't follow the script.
"It's just not your day when we make your all-around best lap of the year, where everything looks right on the computer and all the problem areas were fixed, and the car comes back with nothing hurt, and yet you still get spanked. It's just not your day."
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK: THE STING OF A TOUGH ECONOMY, THE NEVER-ENDING WJ AND NEFF CONTINUES TO SHINE
DRAG RACING AND ECONOMY COLLIDE? – The cost of doing business in a complex United States economy is starting to
Donnie Faulkner, operator of the Rolling O store at NHRA events, admitted business has been tough the past few events.
“I believe we are starting to see the effects of this now, we didn’t see a problem in the early part of the season, but I think it’s going to cost us about 20 – 25% on the bottom line,” said Faulkner. “Until the gas prices get back down under $4.00, we are all in trouble.”
On an average, diesel fuel is almost $1.50 more per gallon than last year. This increase affects every professional team in the pits, not to mention the multitude of sportsman racers. This increase effects the many vendors as well.
“We usually burn about 200 gallons per rig,” said Faulkner, whose Rolling O Store brings a pair of trucks to the events. “You’re looking at about $1,000 per fill-up for us.”
Faulkner estimates his rig gets about 6 miles per gallon and that is with a tail-wind. A race transporter can generate as low as four miles per gallon.
He admitted the tough part of the fuel increase is that the average consumer pays for it all through increased prices.
The defending NHRA Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon isn’t a low budget team but he’s not among the highest financed either. He’s experiencing the effects of increased operating costs.
“We always look for ways to offset those and the increases on the metals and other expenses have been a big hit, but the diesel fuel has been an even larger hit,” said Pedregon. “The challenge is to generate new sponsorship and develop programs and we look to the NHRA and there is an imbalance in the purses. I feel that way and I wish the NHRA would do more.
“I think (the purses) should grow right along with the NHRA. I think the nitro cars put on the show and we put our lives on the line and I look at the economy and is what it is, but I think the purses should be better balanced.”
Pedregon said he would love to see the racers get some measure of relief from the NHRA.
“Any relief that we can get helps us,” Pedregon admitted. “You look at the big teams like Force, Schumacher and Bernstein and it has become an issue. It is for us. The economics have gotten tough and I don’t think there’s anyone out here who has too much money. I look at all the areas we can improve on and it comes back to the purses and I don’t think we make anywhere near the effort to equal the work we put in. I think it's equally unfair to everybody.
“There was an increase not long ago and there should have been one before that and there could have been one in between that. That part isn’t growing as this sport grows. This sport has had a lot of growth in the last ten to fifteen years.”
The racers seek a modern purse structure but for the vendors like Faulkner, an efficient event schedule would suit him and others fine.
“Fix the schedule and make it friendlier to everyone,” Faulkner contends. “If they don’t, they are going to push a bunch of people out of business. Let’s make the schedule user friendlier, not just for the sanctioning body. They need to make it where our events follow a reasonable direction across the country. The need to go from one side of the country and back, not zigzagging all over. They [NHRA] have the power to change it, not us.”
NEVER THOUGHT IT – Thirty years ago, Warren Johnson defeated Lee Edwards to win the IHRA Spring Nationals crown. He
“Yeah, I remember that night, or morning, I think it was 3 AM on a Monday morning when we finished in between rain showers,” Johnson said.
Memory sharp as a tack, Johnson never forgets a winning effort.
“You know that’s why they build fences around drag strips, and that’s to keep us crazy people inside,” Johnson added, breaking into a bit of laughter.
Then as quickly as his Pontiac GXP stormed to the top spot in qualifying, 6.674 seconds, he returned to the solemn look which has propelled him to 138 career No. 1 qualifying efforts.
“I love what I am doing and when you do that, you gain a job you don’t count the hours of work you put in,” Johnson said. “I’ve been blessed with good health and that’s enabled me to do this for this long.”
Some might argue Johnson’s motivation came from failing to qualify at the last event in St. Louis, Mo. Others might say he had a leg up on the competition because he tested weeks ago in Bristol on a facility prepared comparable to the quality of this weekend’s event.
SAY IT AIN’T SO WARREN - Johnson said he tried to get in a test session at his home track in Commerce, Ga last weekend, but with lesser results. Atlanta Dragway is owned by the NHRA.
“The track was so bad, I couldn’t even do a burnout,” Johnson said. “That’s the worst facility we race at all year long. I believe they ought to turn the place into a trailer park.”
RUNNING ARMY STRONG – Tony Schumacher’s Friday evening run looked as monumental on Saturday as it did the evening
As a result, Schumacher’s 4.502-second pass from Friday was never challenged during the last two qualifying sessions and as a result he will face off with 16th-place qualifier, Alan Bradshaw, in the opening round of final eliminations beginning at 12 noon ET.
“It’s been a few races since we were number one,” said the five-time world champion. “It certainly appears like we have a pretty good race car this weekend. Now, we have to go out and seal the deal on Sunday.”
This will be the second straight race that Schumacher and Bradshaw have met in eliminations. Two weeks ago in St. Louis, Schumacher won a second round battle.
“You can’t take those guys for granted,” said the Chicago-area resident. “I can assure you that we’ll have to bring our best to advance.”
While claiming his second pole of 2008, Schumacher also banked his 49th career pole. It’s his third career pole at Bristol Dragway.
“As I’ve stated, we really love racing here,” he added. “It’s a beautiful facility with a great racing surface, so we always look forward to this tour stop.”
On Sunday, Schumacher will be seeking his third victory of the year, while attempting to widen his lead in the Top Fuel standings.
“We have some momentum a third of the way into the season,” he said. “It would be real nice if we could build on that even more here in Tennessee.”
FIRST ON RACE DAY – Mike Neff became the first driver in 38 years to qualify No. 1 in a pure Ford Funny Car when his Friday
Not since Danny Ongais started his Mickey Thompson Mach 1 Mustang from the top spot at the 1970 NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., had a pure Ford (Ford engine and Ford body style) led Funny Car qualifying. The next step for the 41-year-old rookie driver will be to get a win in the red-and-white Mustang powered by the BOSS 500 Ford nitro motor being developed jointly by Ford and John Force Racing, Inc.
Ongais was the last to win a Funny Car race in a pure Ford prevailing in the 1969 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., in a Mustang powered by a SOHC (single overhead cam) 427 Ford engine.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” Neff said of earning his first No. 1 since trading in his wrenches for driving gloves. His Funny Cars started 13 races from No. 1 with drivers Scotty Cannon and Gary Scelzi. Scelzi won the 2005 POWERade championship with Neff as crew chief. “I knew after the first run today that it would be really difficult for anyone to run good enough to take it away from us.”
It was an emotional day for both Neff and crew chief John Medlen – and not just because of the performance of the BOSS 500. Medlen’s son, Eric, who in 2007 succumbed to injuries suffered in a testing accident in Florida, was the No. 1 qualifier at the 2005 and 2006 Thunder Valley Nationals and, at the end of Saturday’s racing, still was the track record holder at Bristol at 4.755 seconds.
For the second consecutive race, all four of the JFR Fords qualified in the top half of the field in an odd order – 1-3-5-7.
NOT A TYPICAL ROOKIE - Neff had every reason to get rattled before his low qualifying effort on Friday evening. After all, the
Neff has proven to be a well above average rookie.
“We warmed the car before the run and it was only running on one mag,” Neff said. “We changed the coil and that wasn’t it. We went down the line troubleshooting.”
The culprit was a bad generator.
“You always want everything to run smooth, and it can add stress to an already tough situation,” Neff admitted.
Neff responded with Friday evening’s 4.783 elapsed time at 321.04 miles per hour. Just one session early, he’d led the Funny Cars with a 4.809.
Credit John Medlen with the accelerated success and Neff's decision to drive and only drive.
Neff, once a championship crew chief, said he’s settled into the role of driving and rarely offers input to Medlen. If asked he’ll tell, but otherwise he chooses to maintain his role as driver. However, he couldn’t help but recall his days as a tuner with the atmospheric conditions on Friday.
“I loved those kinds of conditions,” Neff said. “When you’re a crew chief, you’re licking your chops. You want to throw everything you have at it. Those moments made it fun to be a crew chief.”
Neff is over the experience now.
“I leave most everything to John, but we do talk and we’ll bounce off ideas,” Neff said. “We’re on the same page and agree with the way we do things, but he’s the crew chief and the boss. I let him do his thing. If he’s got any questions, he’ll ask. You can hurt a guy as much as you can help if you start chirping in there and steering them in a direction they really don’t want to follow. He’s a great crew chief and there’s no need for me to get in the way.”
MORALE BOOSTER – Last year’s victory by John Force was a major morale boost for Medlen.
“It was really great just to get there, but the road to there taught us a lot,” Medlen said. “To gain one round win made us happy and with each win, we gained exuberance. The experience was one quick shot short of a home run.”
“That was a huge one and for John to win for the first time since Eric’s accident, we needed that. That was real good.”
GETTING HIS DUE -
COUGHLIN STRIKES OUT - Defending series and event champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. failed to qualify for this weekend's eighth
Coughlin had qualified his JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt at 70 consecutive events, dating back four years to the national event in Topeka, Kan.
"It stings, no question about it," Coughlin said. "But we'll rebound quickly and never look back. This is the brutal part of NHRA drag racing. You're only as good as your last pass."
Coughlin's last pass was his best of the weekend, a 6.739 at 205.13 mph. It just wasn't enough to make the cut.
"We really didn't get a handle on the car until Q4 and that 6.73 was pretty decent," the 37-year-old Coughlin said. "We got off our game plan a little and found ourselves behind all weekend. Joe Hornick and the guys from the engine shop brought up a new motor for us and we put it in between Q1 and Q2. They told me to hold on because it was a stout piece and they were right. We just didn't get it to agree with the car quick enough.
"The first time I dropped the clutch in Q2 I could feel how powerful it was. We had it too hopped up for the track so we backed her down for this morning's run and we were still too hot and it shook the tires. In Q4, the plan was to just calm it all the way down and muscle her in there and we nearly got away with it. We just came up a tad short."
Coughlin entered the event second in the POWERade Drag Racing Series championship points. He cannot lose more than two positions in the rankings.
"We'll be ready for Topeka," said Coughlin, the winner of four world titles and 52 national events. "We've got a weekend off and the guys will have everything back to the shop in Mooresville (N.C.) by this evening. This will be one determined bunch by the time we roll into Kansas."
DSR = DON SCHUMACHER RACING – Yes, Tony Schumacher heard Hot Rod Fuller’s comments in St. Louis. Schumacher knew
“He said there’s a dark side and a light side, you just misunderstood him,” Schumacher said, cracking a smile. "He’s the one with the dark helmet.”
Schumacher said his famous father Don Schumacher asked him if he’d heard the comments.
“I just told dad to let it go because there’s nothing really wrong to be on the dark side,” Schumacher admitted. “We’ve won a lot of stuff and we’ve got a good team, but you do know Dale Earnhardt did run pretty good as ‘the Man in Black.”
Schumacher added, “You just don’t get any better than that.”
As much as Schumacher denies the comments didn’t bother him, one might quickly draw the conclusion they did.
“They can call us what they want but we have a great team and we win races,” said Schumacher. “Everybody out here knows we don’t cheat. They know we play a fair game. I’m not the only person that’s ever had Alan Johnson and ran fast. He’s just a good tuner and hard person to beat.
“If they want to call us something, they should call us champion – it’s that simple.”
One has to wonder does DSR stand for Dark Side Racing?
“That’s dad’s fault,” Schumacher admitted. “He should have kept it Schumacher Racing. He just didn’t want any to confuse me with owning his company. He had to put the Don in front of it.”
BILL’S WAY – Rookie Top Fuel driver and Bill Miller student, Troy Buff, says he’s learning to drive a Top Fuel dragster the
“I’d like to say that I’m a lot better now than I was in Pomona,” Buff said. “I was still learning a lot of Bill’s principles and routines and now I feel like I have a lot better handle on what he prefers.”
“But when you look at it, I feel like Bill’s way is the right way,” Buff said.
The toughest lesson for Buff has been in abandoning the techniques he once employed while racing Top Alcohol Dragster.
“Just had to learn to slow down,” Buff said. “When we ran the alcohol car, we rolled through the water fast for a reason. Back then we ran the car a little lean and if you got the clutch ahead of the throttle, it would backfire and blow out the burst panel. You just had to stay ahead of that.”
“I brought that with me, and Bill had to slow me down.”
Buff noticed the differences with other drivers once he slowed.
“I used to look at some and say, ‘man, are they in a hurry or what?”
TREE BUSINESS -
HELPING HAND - In a vivid display of the camaraderie that exists between Don Schumacher Racing teammates, Schumacher Electric Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Chip Ellis is on hand this weekend at Bristol Dragway to help out the FRAM Top Fuel crew.
"Our team works next to the FRAM team at the DSR shop in Indianapolis and we've become good friends," said Ellis, who is here with his wife Kathy and daughter McKenzie on his weekend off from NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle competition. "I was in Knoxville, Tenn., picking up my boat and I decided to come to the track and give the guys a hand. I've just been changing tires and cleaning out oil pans and that kind of stuff. It's a lot of fun and I'm learning a lot."
Ellis also served as color commentator during today's final qualifying session along with NHRA track announcer Bob Frey.
TUNING BY FATBACK - You might not recognize the name Michael McSwain. “Fatback” McSwain, however, might ring some bells. The well-known crew chief from the rounder side of things (NASCAR) has been spotted again hanging out in the SnaponFranchise.com pit area with Doug Herbert and the rest of the Snap-on crew.
Fatback, recently retired from the NASCAR circuit, has worked for likes of Gibbs Racing and the Wood Brothers, serving as crew chief for drivers such as Bobby Labonte and Ricky Rudd.
“Fatback is a good friend of mine,” says Herbert. “He lives close to the shop in Denver, and he’s here hanging out with us and checking everything out. He isn’t working for any teams right now, so who knows? Maybe we can talk him into helping us out at the shop or something. I’m racing in the Circle Track Challenge tomorrow night against some of these guys and I’m hoping he can give me some pointers!”
Fatback enjoys coming out to the races, too.
“I’ve been hanging with boys, trying to figure this thing out,” says McSwain. “They don’t have better technology than Cup, but it’s different. Everything we used to wonder about during a race in NASCAR, these guys can pull the data after each pass and adjust for the next run. It’s pretty cool.”
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING - Greg Anderson qualified his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP No. 3 behind the Johnson duo with
"It's typical, like any other weekend," Anderson said, "because everybody's glued together. You'd swear the scoreboard was stuck when you watched every qualifying session. We're fairly happy with my car. It's been very consistent all weekend and it's made four pretty decent runs. Jason's (Line) been a little off each run so we have a little work to do there. I think we'll have two fast cars for tomorrow.
“Can we run with the Johnsons?
“That's may be a little stretch right now; they seem to have a little (performance) advantage, but we'll bring our best. Somebody's going to have to take it from them, but crazy things can happen on race day. That's why they race them on the racetrack and not on paper."
Anderson's 53rd career win at Houston earlier this season broke a tie he held with former Top Fuel great Joe Amato for fifth all time for career wins, but his very first winner's circle celebration came here at Bristol Dragway in a final-round showdown with Jim Yates in 2001.
"I can remember that day like it was yesterday," Anderson said. "It was just the neatest thing that I had ever experienced and I almost couldn't believe it. I didn't really feel worthy almost. But then we went on to win a few races and I guess it sunk in. But we earned that first one. We didn't steal it and didn't back into it - we ran good that day. But until you go out and do it again, you never know. At that time I didn't know if I could ever win again. It was a neat, neat feeling, and that's where it all started - right here."
FINALLY! - Tom Hammonds in his Tom Hammonds Enterprise Chevy Cobalt turned in a strong qualifying effort and will race
"It's extremely satisfying to see the hard work pay off," Hammonds said. "We've learned the hard way. We've taken our lumps, but at the same time, even if you don't qualify, as long as you learn why you're not qualified and learn from those mistakes, then it's worthwhile. But we still have a lot of work to do, not only here but back at the shop. We're not there yet, but we'll continue to keep working hard. This is a step in the right direction."
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK: A LEVELED SURFACE IN BRISTOL YIELDS GOOD RACING; MIKE NEFF LOOKING LESS LIKE A ROOKIE
LEVELING OUT – The strong times during Friday qualifying at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals can be attributed to a
“We had just had some problem with the grinding of the track and it was certainly through no fault of those doing the grinding,” Byrd explained. “The process would only cure one problem and create another. The track would be all smooth but there would be surface problems.”
Byrd said that rather than chance a repeat last year’s postponement, they decided to follow a similar technique successfully completed by Las Vegas Motor Speedway [LVMS].
LVMS had similar problems with the racing surface related to the portion of the track that runs over an underground spectator tunnel. The process begins with a profilogram.
“When you do this, you find out where your highs and lows are,” Byrd explained. “You build a grid on the track and the company comes in drills 5/8-inch holes in the race track and shoot the same kind of expanding foam that you can get at Lowe’s, under the race track. They shot gallons and gallons and it set up and solidified.”
Byrd explained the foam would never deteriorate because the only thing which causes that is sunlight.
“I’m not mechanical, or an engineer, but I felt if you shot foam in there, it would raise up the bad surface an inch or so,” Byrd admitted. “They are so precise with the process that they can take a high in one place and take a low two inches away and level them up. Is it perfect? No, there will never be a completely level drag strip ever.”
Byrd felt confident headed into the event because of the feedback provided by Pro Stock teams testing in the weeks leading up to the event.
“The cool temperatures we got on Friday cured a lot of the ills,” Byrd said. “If we were in July, we wouldn’t be setting the same track records. I’m confident this is going to be a good race track for a long time to come.”
BETTER WATCH OUT FOR CHARLOTTE – Byrd has worked with Bruton Smith for many years and he’s seen the man roll out the red carpet on more than one occasion. He’s pulling out all the stops for the new drag strip located on the property of Lowe’s Motor Speedway this September.
“They had an unlimited budget and they are already over that,” Byrd said.
Byrd said he’s already conveyed to Smith the crew chiefs are requesting a concrete quarter-mile.
“The track is being built with four lanes and that’s double the cost,” Byrd said. “I don’t know if he’s going to do all concrete, but I do know he’s talked to the engineers about it. If he tries to save money on that, it will be the only thing.
“I’d like to think we have a pretty fair race track in Bristol but this one in Charlotte is going to be the Taj Mahal. All of Bruton’s tracks are nice, but Charlotte is going to make us look like we are all in the ghetto. Bruton is a visionary and he loves this sport.
“If race fans miss that first event in Charlotte then they are going to miss the first race at what I feel is the best race track ever built.”
NOT YOUR AVERAGE FRESHMAN - Mike Neff continued to build momentum as he grabbed the provisional No. 1 qualifying
Neff is still on an advanced learning curve and with each run he takes a huge stride forward as he transitions from world champion crew chief to a world class driver.
“It’s exciting driving the car. There’s no other way to explain it. It’s the uncertainty of what happens when you step on the gas,” said Neff. “When you’re a crew chief, in these conditions, you’re really licking your chops.”
“The second run was a handful. They said it had smoke off the rear tires when it left. I was ripping the wheel back and forth. It was a problem the whole way,” said the former off-road racer. “My hat’s off to (crew chief) John Medlen; he’s done a great job all year. To make two great runs here at Bristol, which is one of my favorite places to race, really feels good.”
Neff continued a tradition at John Force Racing when he bumped teammate Ashley Force from the top spot late in the day. At previous races John Force and Robert Hight had the dubious distinction of preventing Ashley from becoming the first female to qualify No. 1 in the Funny Car class. This is one of the lone gender records still up in the air for the 2007 Rookie of the Year.
LIKE BUTTER ON A ROLL - Ten days removed from their first win of the season, Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Cobalt Racing
Posting the quickest elapsed time in each of Friday’s two sessions, Johnson opened with a strong 6.714 second pass before resetting the Bristol Dragway track record in the evening session with his 6.687 second, 206.16 mph run, earning him the provisional No. 1 qualifying session heading into the final day of qualifying.
“We really didn’t know what to expect for the evening session. We looked at the corrected altitude, and it looked to be about a hundredth to fourteen thousandths better, so we thought we were looking at running around a 6.70. But we made some changes to our ACDelco Cobalt, throwing everything at it, and, after spinning the tires a little bit on the first run, it hooked up. We might have left a little on the table, but you really can’t complain after putting that 6.687 on the board.
“Testing here the Tuesday before the Atlanta race was huge. Ironically, the conditions were about the same as they were today. We made six nice runs and even though we had the quickest pass of the test at 6.73, I felt we should have been able to run a 6.68. It’s just a matter of looking at the information, figuring out what’s going on, and putting the whole package together.
“For tomorrow, we’ll go out and see what we can do. We’ve been thinking about changing engines since we hadn’t run this one since Houston, and although it seems like it can really put up a strong e.t., it can also be a little finicky. Still, it’s hard to change too much when you’re running so well. We’ll just have to play it by ear.”
DECISIONS, DECISIONS - Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert knows he’s got a tough decision to make in the near future. For
“Well, at least the same guy owns both the tracks, so I'm not being a slut here,” Herbert said, his voice cracking with laughter.
Herbert’s affection can be traced to 1992 when he won his first national event. The sophomore driver defeated such names as Lori Johns, Jack Ostrander and Brandon Bernstein’s current co-crewchief Kim LaHaie in the final round.
The first experience was so pleasurable that Herbert added five consecutive victories in Bristol to compliment the first one.
“I guess it’s easy to love a track when you win there that much,” Herbert added.
Herbert said the most significant lesson he’s learned over the years is to understand what the race car is telling him.
“I think one of the best things you can have in the car is a driver that knows what their doing; that knows how to win. There are a few of them out here, Doug Kalitta does, Schumacher's gotten good, Dixon's good. I mean, these guys have been racing a long time.
”They know. We come back and I tell them all the time, it broke a valve spring or broke a push rod or broke a rocker. Usually I'll know what happened. It dropped a cylinder, about a second and a half, picked it back up, look at the computer and they say 'how do you know that?' Well, I've been doing this for a pretty long time and that's how you figure it out. I think I am a lot different as a driver and probably just as an overall person since that time, too.”
His maturity level as a driver, Herbert says, is like night and day in comparison.
“I think back then it was just the thrill of being out here racing Top Fuel,” Herbert said. “The only thrill really now is to win. Coming out here and racing; it's fun. I'm out here with all my friends and being out here with all the fans is fun, but winning is really the only thing that keeps you motivated to keep on going.”
HE BRAKES FOR SAFETY – Herbert’s two young sons, Jon and James, were killed in a car crash down the street from the family’s home. In at least 24 events, race fans offer their condolences to Herbert, which is greatly appreciated from the veteran drag racer.
He’s taken the experience of losing his sons to bring awareness to responsible teenage driving through their B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe) program. The program was created in January of this year through the determination of Jon’s classmates at South Lake Christian Academy.
“It's just building speed and building momentum,” Herbert said. “The most important safety feature in a teenager's car is the teenager themselves. They can make a big difference keeping them and their friends safe by making good decisions and thinking about what's going on and knowing what's in front of them, beside them, behind and what's going on with the car. The driver is the most important thing. We have a scholastic program now that should be available on our website any day. We're also doing a defensive driving class that will start in Charlotte.
“My friend Bob Lutz, he does the Mario Andretti and Jeff Gordon school, he's doing a BRAKES charity defensive driving school that is going to teach the kids. A teenager will come with a parent, that have to come with a parent, will keep them together for a bit and then we'll split them off. The teenagers will go off with the driving instructors. The parents are a big part of this. The kids, before they turn 16 they already know how to drive. They know how to drive from us and we have to make sure we're a good example to them.”
Herbert admitted the experience has changed his outlook towards traveling the highways.
“I think I am a lot safer driver,” Herbert said. “I use cruise control a lot. I set the cruise control at the speed limit. I am a lot more aware. I try to pay attention more. The text messaging and being on the phone, it’s a distraction. It's a cause for a lot of accidents. I was surprised to learn that over 6000 kids every year, teenagers, die in car accidents. It's the number one killer of our teenagers and its something that we can actually do something to make a difference and change.”
MEMORY OF A LIFETIME – Gotham City Racing co-owner Roger Burgess wanted to expose a few drag racers to a once in lifetime experience and did so Thursday evening before the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. The former Vietnam Veteran and now successful businessman chartered a jet to Atlanta, Georgia for himself and nitro racers Melanie Troxel, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Frank Hawley to attend the Company of Heroes dinner at the Atlanta Aquarium.
The event was to honor those who have been presented the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor on the battlefield. Only 105 of those recipients are alive.
Gotham City Racing’s Jon Cavaiani was one of 36 survivors who attended the function. He’s a semi-regular at NHRA events and co-ordinates with the Gotham City Racing’s veterans outreach program.
Hawley is known as a two-time Funny Car world champion and successful drag racing school instructor. On this evening, he found himself a fan of those who have served the country.
Johnson’s perception of the event was one capable of teaching many lessons.
“You immediately see the parallels with what they did and what we need to do with our teams at times,” Johnson said. “There’s not one person in the military, there’s a team. Each one of these guys stepped up to be the leaders in their team and there are times we can step up and bring those values to our teams. What we do is on a different scale than what they do. There’s lots you can learn from their lessons.”
In his job as a Funny Car driver, Johnson cannot afford to be intimidated by fellow drivers. This experience left him with no other choice.
“There was some intimidation there,” Johnson admitted. “Not being in the military and being around those who were and to see how they conducted themselves made you want to do the same.”
Honored at the function were U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn and Kimberly Dozier, the CBS correspondent who was so badly wounded in Iraq on Memorial Day, 2006. Dozier has since written a book, Breathing the Fire. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was the event emcee.
Troxel, who has flown the banner of the veterans and the POW-MIA awareness for two seasons now, cannot thank Burgess enough for the opportunity to attend.
“I felt very fortunate to be invited by Roger Burgess,” “Just being in the presence of so many Medal of Honor recipients was a special experience was an experience I will cherish for a long time.”
Hawley pointed out that everyone should experience this event to further understand what defines a hero.
“I’ve always tried to make everyone realize that what we are doing is just fun and entertaining,” Hawley added. “We want to do well in what we do but it is a sport. Sometimes we can take what we do too seriously. The idea that we call those who race out here heroes is probably not the best word. The guys there were real heroes. They’ve contributed to our freedom and our lifestyle in a way I could never do in a race car, no matter how many championships I may win. There’s nothing we can do that would even come close to the sacrifice those brave soldiers made.”
THE TOP SPEED - Ashley Force’s final pass Friday of 4.792 seconds, 324.98 mph was a record besting her previous fastest run
“It is always the runs that are nice and smooth which don’t feel as fast as the ones that aren’t as perfect. Those are the ones where there is so much going on,” said AOL’s Hottest Athlete for 2007. “I was surprised when they told me about that run and the time. I knew it was a good run. I was having to do less in the car than on the first run.”
The young driver had a hectic day filled with a photo shoot for Sanyo, one of JFR’s newest sponsors and two qualifying sessions. Before the second round the team had to attempt to start the Ford Mustang three times before finally getting it to fire.
“It was a good day. It was a little stressful right before the last round. We had trouble starting up and we’ve had that problem in the past but it usually just starts the next time,” said Force. “This time it took us three times. It wasn’t starting so we were getting a little nervous but we just got up there and made it in time. Then we actually ran really good. Maybe that is good luck for us when we are rushed and have pressure on us.”
OPEN TESTING - Robert Hight will head into the second day of qualifying with luxury he hasn’t had all season: an opportunity
“It is a big time advantage to be able to test a few things tomorrow. We don’t need to go into race day thinking about the stuff we want to try. We need to try it tomorrow and see if it works. When those things are on your mind it kind of screws you up,” said the fastest driver to win 100 rounds in the funny car class. “We’ve got some heads we have been carrying around for a while and we are going to try them out tomorrow. We think it should cool the motor down and help it out at the finish line and help it stay on eight cylinders.”
DOG-LEGGING IT – When Larry Carrier built the famous Thunder Valley Dragway, he did so with a dog-leg turn in the
Fast forward to the mid-1980s and the cars were running low five-second passes at over 280-mph. The dog-leg started to become an issue.
Why would anyone build a track with a turn in the shut-down area?
“Dad just found a mountain he couldn’t move,” said Andy Carrier, youngest son of Larry. “In that day and age, it was a whole lot easier to go around the mountain.”
Mark Oswald was a multi-time IHRA World Champion under the elder Carrier’s tenure. He turned the corner after many runs at the famed Thunder Valley Dragway quarter-mile.
“I remember it well,” Oswald said. “That part of the track could bite you. Everyone who ever ran then knew if you ever had a fire and couldn’t see; you were pretty much guessing where it was at.”
All these years Oswald never had a clue why the turn was there.
“I think they did it to put an extra challenge in there for the drivers,” Oswald guessed. “I know I guessed wrong and ended up into the side of the mountain once.”
The chance encounter for Oswald was during the 1985 IHRA Fall Nationals, following a first round victory. He lifted the supercharger on his Stroh’s Light-sponsored flopper and while he deemed the backfire a minor one, the incident was magnified when he entered the curve.
“The grease was all over the windows and the car was on fire and I couldn’t see,” Oswald said. “I was guessing where the dog leg was and I started to turn and I second-guessed myself and kept going straight. I should have gone with my first guess.
“I certainly knew it was there when I hit it.”
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Click to visit our sponsor's website